Welcome to the newest issue of Insider Inbox, where we hear from some of the biggest influencers in digital marketing about their take on the current—and future—state of the business.
Last time, we heard from David Daniels, founder of The Relevancy Group, who told us about how important it is for digital marketers to master change and be adaptable in order to be successful.
Next up, Jordan Cohen, CMO at Fluent, joins us to tell us about some the challenges and opportunities shaping the digital marketing industry. Jordan’s experience in real-time digital marketing runs deep. As CMO at Fluent for the past two years, he leads strategic marketing, branding, demand gen, communications and partnership programs for the company that’s transforming acquisition marketing by fusing hardcore data science with human interaction.
Before joining the team at Fluent, Jordan spent two years as VP, Marketing at Movable Ink, where he was the second executive hire in the company’s early startup days. There, he created and executed the company’s marketing strategy from the ground up, driving growth through a combination of public speaking, press coverage, content marketing and demand generation. He also served as VP, Business Development at Pontiflex, and held senior marketing roles at IBM/Unica, Goodmail Systems and Epsilon. He’s been instrumental in several DMA councils and initiatives, the Online Trust Alliance and other industry organizations.
Jordan is both a student and a scholar of digital marketing, so you’ll definitely want to hear what this deep-rooted expert has to say about where the industry is headed!
1. Why did you choose marketing, or maybe it chose you?
Honestly, I wasn’t very good at math, so that was a determining factor. As a kid, I always loved English and Social Studies, so I majored in Communications. My strongest subject area was always English and writing, which led me into PR. I started out thinking I wanted to get into politics, but one thing led to another and I ended up in mar-tech. Ironically, at Fluent, we’ve worked with some presidential candidates and political campaigns, doing some marketing around the election. We’ve been watching how Clinton & Trump are performing in social, email marketing and TV presence, and I love this stuff. Policy issues and politics are fascinating to me.
So, I guess you could say it was a combination of both…at Fluent, we’re working on marketing for the marketing industry, and not just promoting random widgets—these are companies that are legitimately changing the way brands and politicians are communicating with customers and their audiences.
2. What is your personal mission statement?
You should always strive to be the best at what you do. I’m extremely competitive, so I want to be the best CMO in mar-tech. I want to kick everyone’s ass! I want competitors to look at Fluent and wonder “How the hell are these guys doing what they’re doing?” And, I want my team to feel the same way—that they want us to be the envy of the industry.
But on a personal note, I also want to be a good person. So, I guess, “Don’t be an asshole” is sort of my personal mission statement. I try to keep things light, and not take things too seriously. I take winning seriously, but you have to keep a healthy sense of humor. And remember that family and life are way bigger than our day jobs.
3. Tell me something about your job @Fluent that inspires you to keep working there.
At Fluent in particular, I love that we have the ability to access consumer insights on the fly. We use surveying to fuel our ad targeting, so we might get 500,000 people to register on websites that we power, then ask them survey questions–that’s how we decide what ads they see. But, I can also use our survey platform to ask consumers anything I want. We’ve run surveys about Pokemon Go, the Apple Watch, and we’ve been polling since July of last year on the presidential election.
This has been very cool for me, and intellectually stimulating – the fact that we can execute research surveys on the fly and get real-time insights into what people are thinking about. There are lots of survey companies out there, but we like to ask what other people aren’t asking, so that we can provide real value to our clients and the public in general. Through our work, we’re able to contribute to the national dialogue about important issues.
4. Offices or open work space?
I prefer offices. Open is better for some departments, like engineering for scrums and such, but for marketing, you sometimes need to shut the door and knock off some tasks with no distractions.
5. What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?
Having a sharp, creative mind and execution. Being analytical/data driven is what everyone is talking about these days, but pure marketing sometimes gets lost in the numbers. The importance of being creative, being able to make a human connection, to be clever and artful with language and imagery…those have almost gotten a bad rap somehow.
I was at the VentureBeat CMO Summit a few months ago, and it was almost like a group therapy session where CMOs talked about how much they want to get back to the art of storytelling. There’s been so much hype about the “Moneyball” CMO and marketing department, and mythology emerging about how companies can somehow just mathematically generate growth and success. The reality is there’s a ton of art, creativity, and storytelling involved in building great companies, products and brands. How does your company fit into the broader universe? Why is it valuable? Digital marketers have an important role, and the data/analytics is becoming foundational now. But in my mind, the story is what separates the winners from the losers.
6. What is the best part about your job?
There are two great things. The first is the amazing marketing team that we have at Fluent. We’ve actually grown from just 2 of us to 9 in only two years. We have the support of Fluent’s management and board, and marketing is viewed as a powerful asset and competitive weapon. I’m so fortunate to have extremely talented and friendly people working on all the different elements of strategy…from content to events and design. In fact, the entire team at Fluent (not just marketing) is really great to work with. It’s just a culture that is supportive and collaborative, and with none of the infighting like I’ve experienced at so many other places. Also, it’s a great culture, but not a cult. You know, I read the Hubspot book, “Disrupted,” and it made that place seem like a cult—an over-the-top fraternity type approach to company building. And, I think there’s a lot of that in startup and ad tech. We’re all committed to the company here, but we also have a lot of respect for family and personal lives, and operate with a healthy dose of humor.
The second thing: there’s no red tape here, no bureaucracy. So we can actually get things done.
7. If you could only use five (digital) marketing tools, what would they be? And why?
• Email. There’s simply nothing better. It’s opt-in, these are your loyal fans—people who have said, “please market to me.” Everywhere I go, I tell people that building this channel is huge.
• Advertising on LinkedIn. I’ve found it to be highly effective as a lead gen vehicle. It’ offers great targeting, people who want to engage with your content, and it’s contextually appropriate.
• Twitter. It’s definitely an earned channel, and we’re actively trying to grow followership. It’s probably not great for consumer marketers, but for B2B, influencers, the press…that’s one reason I like it: the media is there.
• Takeover banners on contextually relevant sites where our audience is. These are great for driving brand awareness.
• Facebook…. on a limited basis. I have a number of professional contacts I’m friends with on Facebook and I notice things I post are often seen by them in higher numbers than on LinkedIn. I think people are just on Facebook more often, but I am more careful there about what I post.
8. Facebook or Twitter?
I gravitate more toward Facebook. I am on Twitter, but only for posting articles related to Fluent. Facebook is a much more engaging experience. I find myself consuming articles, videos, etc. on Facebook. I don’t post as much on Facebook, but it’s more engaging and easier to consume. On Twitter, I’m a more prolific contributor, but more for me promoting our business and less about me going on Twitter to see what other people are tweeting.
9. What is the biggest digital marketing trend that will drive success for the second half of 2016?
I see two big trends. The first is using email addresses, or hashed email addresses, as a universal ID to target individuals across multiple channels. Google is working on this already, but the idea is to extend the value of email addresses outside the inbox to enhance targeting across all channels, even on television. As an example, brands that use Facebook’s custom audience feature see performance 4-5 times higher than general advertising because those are the fanatics. They’re the most engaged, and if you target them on other channels, they’ll also engage there. You can layer on look-a-like targeting and find more of those kind of people. This will make the value of email much greater. It’s the digital currency that’s fueling the future of digital marketing.
The second, and in parallel (which is also a big challenge), is creating engaging content. The rise of consumer ad-blocking and the lack of tolerance for intrusive, non-permission based targeting is raising expectations dramatically. That’s why Snapchat has such high traction. It creates fun, engaging, “snackable” experiences for consumers, on their own terms. For the most part, people just tune out crappy marketing. We need to create content that consumers WANT to engage with.
10. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
Green. What does green say? It’s the color of money. It’s plants and life. It’s vitality.
11. What’s the one thing you can’t live without to get the job done?
One is the print version of The Wall Street Journal. I’m in Manhattan, so I take the subway to work, and it’s easy to read on my way into the office. I start with the Business & Technology section and read as much as possible. It’s important to stay abreast of what’s going on in the marketing world and the world at large. We’re very agile, and while we have a plan for the next 90 days, that can change any moment if there’s an opportunity for us to insert ourselves into the larger national conversation.
Second, is killer designers. That’s not to downplay anything that anyone else does. I’m just huge into design. Design is really critical. You can produce all of the great content in the world, but if it doesn’t look professional, it does a disservice. Marketing is about making sure it looks good, and I don’t have the ability to do that myself, so I can’t live without talented, creative designers.
Thank you, Jordan, for sharing your perspective on the world of digital marketing!
Tune in for the next edition, when we hear from Dela Quist, CEO of AlchemyWorx, another outstanding expert and recognized authority on digital marketing with deep roots in email.
Until next time…
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